A commonly used phrase in the sport of monster trucks is "turning the heat up!" or "it is time to turn up the heat!" when talking about the start of an event. But in this case I wanted to take whomever was indeed turning the heat up...and up...and up and personally run them over with a truck. You know its going to be a long day when upon arriving at the venue the thermometer reads over 100 degrees. Never again will I complain about how cold the February indoor Monster Nationals is. Heck, I survived this frying pan of a day, why not run that event outside too?!
The Chicagoland weather and pretty much the entire midwest had been blasted for over a week with high 90 and a couple triple-digit days but the hottest of them all would just have to come the day of the monsters. With an early start time this year as well, we would be shown no mercy by Mother Nature as temps stayed above 100 or near it for the entire show and nearly the entire day.
Midwest Monsters' contributor Andrew Pellegrine and I would be making the trip down to Champaign on the sweltering Sunday morning and arrive at the fairgrounds around Noon for the opening of the Pit Party. We could tell already that attendance was going to be down as there were not more than 40 people wandering the track. Obviously the heat was to blame and not only was the track pretty sparse, but the entire fair was very under-populated.
We stopped by each truck/driver quickly and the common theme was talking about the heat and not wanting to be in it. This day was not one to be envious of wearing a fire suit. After maybe a half hour on the track, we resorted to several trips to the food vendors for drinks and then sought shelter in the grandstands waiting for the time to pass by. As show time drew near, the stands did begin to fill up. Not so much in years gone by, but still a decent sized and very energetic crowd who were all ready to see the monsters hit the track, and yes, heat us up even more!
Big Dawg--Doug Noelke
Bigfoot 11--Rick Long
As like many of the arenas the Monster Nationals visits during the winter, space at the Champaign county fairgrounds is limited for the monster trucks. A short, straight line track with only one jump would be the obstacle for the trucks in racing and then for freestyle there was a car-van-car stack down in the small open field area. Modified tuff trucks were also going to be racing and some of their jumps would come into play for freestyle as well. The first event for the day though would be qualifying to set the brackets for racing.
Nitemare-- Hoffman's new Nitemare is only a couple weeks old and is very much still in the testing phase. Hoffman still was unsure what role this truck would play in his fleet and was contemplating running his older truck on the upcoming winter tour. This Nitemare was surely looking sharp but its run down the track was a bit rough around the edges. The motor seemed to be laboring and Hoffman was definitely not at full power for this pass. He still completed the run but would already have to go try and get the bugs out.
Big Dawg-- Noelke was runner up in the Monster Nationals series this year as the points chase was already wrapped up before this event took place. Noelke looked to set the fast time of the day but instead he too was going to be looking for the problems back in the pits. Immediately something was not right with Big Dawg as the truck was not pulling with four wheel drive. Noelke made the pass but would be at the bottom of the bracket.
Rammunition-- Benear won the indoor Champaign event back in February and was looking to conquer both climates and both locations with a big victory. We got something big alright and the carnage continued! Benear blasted off the line and charged the cars hard shooting the truck way up and then, as the truck was in mid-air, the power shut off! Rammunition was in a front-ended dive to the ground and all 10,000lbs came crashing down on the front end snapping the tie-rod and mounts. Huge air by Benear and easily the quickest time so far but we are three for three in sending trucks back to the pits in pieces now!
Bigfoot-- It has been a very long time since I've seen a true rookie driver inside a Bigfoot truck. Rick Long has progressed his skills through the first half of the year and recently switched over to Bigfoot 11 after some time in #8. Long spent most of the winter on the CFP series and this is his first Monster Nationals event. Long put down a smooth and quick pass and, the best part of all, the truck held together!
Raminator-- Mark Hall is the 2005 Monster Nationals racing and freestyle champion and also would become the 2005 Special Events champion. Mastery at the indoors and the outdoors but could Hall overcome what seems to be a hometown jinx over the past few years? We quickly had an answer for the time being as Hall put down a blistering run with some huge air over the cars and captured the #1 Qualifying spot.
A round of pro modified tuff trucks were up next and these guys took a beating! A very tough course that ran them from one end of the field to the other with several steep jumps that resulted in some wild runs. The trucks would be racing in a double elimination bracket in between rounds of monster trucks.
Monster Truck Freestyle
Going into freestyle the question remained as to exactly what to expect? Who was fixed? Who was still in pieces? And I was curious to know what the heck was wrong with that van in the pyramid for it to be used in this way?! That thing looked perfect! Still had plates on it even. (sigh) Anyways...as I said before, the monsters had the car-van-car pyramid to work with and the still very fresh two sets of five cars plus several tuff truck hills and a wheelie bump in the middle of the two rows. I apologize for some of the pictures having clutter in them. The grandstands have several posts, poles, and power lines stretching all over the place. It was a constant battle to try and avoid them and some were not avoidable especially shooting towards the pyramid.
Nitemare-- Hoffman rumbled Nitemare out to the track to kickoff freestyle and took off with a good pass down the right lane but the truck still did not sound right. He came to the back of the near set and stood the truck up pretty well but there was no momentum behind the truck to keep it in the air. Nitemare sounded like it was suffering from some kind of fuel delivery problems and it was evident further with his next two jumps as Hoffman could not get not get any kind of air from the ramp or the backs of the cars. Again, problems would need to be ironed out before racing for Nitemare. Score: 3.
Big Dawg-- The Big Dawg crew thrashed away at what they thought was the cause of problems revealed in Qualifying but with his first pass down the cars in Freestyle, it was clear they were not fixed. Noelke took two runs down the cars, neither of them very fast as the rear tires were not pushing the truck at full power. Noelke coasted the truck back into the pit area and upon inspection found the third-member in the rear axle to be busted and the damage would keep Big Dawg chained to the fence for the rest of the day. Score: 1.
Rammunition-- Seems whenever freestyle is off to a slow start, the weight falls on Dale Benear to pump some life back into the crowd and into the action. He would provide yet again! Benear announced his presence right away with a great set of donuts on the dusty infield. He attacked the cars next with two jumps and then headed down to the fresh pyramid. Benear attacked the stack hard and carried the front wheels up and over the van and the second car, slammed the nose down to the ground and bounced up a perfect wheelie and carried it all the way back to the crush cars were the rear wheels hit the blue set and the truck landed on top of the set! Awesome! Benear popped out of the truck and waived to the crowd. Great way to end the run but the run itself needed more before it. Score: 7.
Bigfoot-- Rick Long would have a tough act to follow but was up to the task and also announced his presence but in a more "you're not suppose to do that" kind of way. After opening his run with a quick pass down the cars, Long turned Bigfoot towards the center wheelie jump and launched the truck into the air and pulled a slap wheelie on the bounce but he was heading right towards the pit area! That was the first reason the drivers were told not to jump the hill that way, the second being because there were low hanging power lines some 15 feet above that hill! Long did not hit the lines but was not about to get another chance at it. After some finger pointing from the pits directing Long which was the correct way to hit the hill, he was back at it and went for a wheelie again but could not get the right bounce. He took off down to the pyramid and blasted into the first car shooting Bigfoot almost straight up and cleared the van and second car with ease as the rear wheels barely dragged across the top of the van. Long worked over the cars next with a nice jump on the blue side and then decided to forego anymore shots at the slap wheelie and instead used the hill as a launching ramp and sky'd Bigfoot up into the air and cleared the length of what would've been the five cars. Long quickly went down for the pyramid again and hit it even harder this time and nearly completely cleared the van and second car. The orange set of cars was not providing much air so Long stuck with the blue side and hit some crazy jumps that continually shot Bigfoot off to the left and nearly into the cement barriers. Long was filling the run up with just about everything and put an exclamation point on it with a set of donuts as well and finished off with a final leap over the blue cars. A fast and exciting run from Rick Long in Bigfoot and deservedly takes the lead. Score: 9.
Raminator-- Redemption had to be on the mind of Mark Hall as he geared up for his freestyle run. It was back in February that the hometown curse struck and left the red dodge crippled halfway through the indoor Champaign show leaving the local hero sidelined. Raminator was now back kickin' on all fours and ready to payback the Champaign fans for what they paid to see and they were in for a show now! Hall tore out of the pits, never slowing down, and launched off the far ramp with some of the biggest air on the day. He quickly went for the pyramid and hit that very hard as well, never touching the van. Hall took some good hits on the near set then ripped into a furious display of donuts that billowed dust everywhere. He spun Raminator a good seven or eight times but I missed most of it due to trying to dodge the poles. Hall followed up the donuts with some more ridiculous air off the cars in both directions and the center hill before heading back to the pyramid again. He went very wide around the pyramid and instead tried to cut a donut on the grass but the truck suddenly rocked up on two wheels and Hall danced the truck around in a circle and pulled an impressive save to bring the truck back down. The sway bar had broke on the previous jump which caused the truck to rock up so violently. Hall did not let the damage slow him down and made two laps around the track catching air off the cars and the tuff truck hills. Hall slid the truck to a stop right in front of the pumped up crowd and acknowledged the cheers. Another awesome run from Hall and he picked up the Freestyle victory from the crowd vote and from me. Score: 10.
The tuff truck battle continued between what was shaking out to be a truck vs. Bronco war. The finals would consist of one of each coming up later.
Monster Truck Racing
With Big Dawg out of competition, it would be down to four trucks for racing. As I said before, the track is a short one and the winners will be those with the quickest reactions off the dusty starting line and those with the biggest top-end speed. A bad start could leave the losers in the dust but the come from behind win is always a potential. On the Monster Nationals tour, there are no guarantees.
Rammunition vs. Bigfoot--
Two of the premier next generation monster truck talents pulled to the line for the first match up. Long had been flawless on the day while the Rammunition team has battled some breakage but Benear has done his job to keep the black Dodge one to beat. Long took the slight hole shot over Benear as they bolted off the line and through the dust towards the cars. The Hemi power was starting to kick in as Benear was reeling in Bigfoot as they hit the cars nearly dead even. They both sailed over the cars, easily clearing their respective sets and at the finish, by the slimmest of margins, Rick Long held off Benear to score the win for Team Bigfoot. Winner: Bigfoot.
Nitemare vs. Raminator--
Breakage has plagued both these machines at some point in the day and the question had to be asked if either were at 100% for this race. One bed panel was off Raminator due to the quick thrash in the pits on the sway bar that left no time to replace the fiberglass. Hoffman had plenty of time to work on Nitemare but were the fuel bugs completely gone? The light hit green and both trucks roared forward without hesitation. There was no clear leader until they hit they hit the ramp and Hall aired Raminator out and extended the lead in the air to a half truck length which was enough to put a stop to Nitemare. Very good race. Nitemare sounded very good and hung right with Raminator nearly the entire run. Winner: Raminator.
The pro tuff trucks were still set to race their Final round in a few minutes, but first two local stock tuff truckers came to out to tackle the track. Both trucks were beat up on every jump and were literally falling to pieces by the end. The Bronco hit the last hill very hard and on the landing the muffler and part of the exhaust pipe jammed into the ground like a dart! Track crew tried to knock it out but it was so far jammed in that it required a bobcat to dig out!
Monster Truck Battle for 3rd
Rammunition vs. Nitemare--
An extra round of racing between Benear and Hoffman for the 3rd place spot on the afternoon. This should be a very close race after what they each did in Round 1. But the hopes of a good war were dashed almost immediately. They both left the line hard but within only a few feet Rammunition lost momentum as the truck only appeared to be in 2WD. More problems on the day for Rammunition while Hoffman put down his strongest run yet and picked up the win. Winner: Nitemare.
The first of two Finals were up next featuring the tuff trucks. Chris Mosher would take the blue and green Autumn Woods Racing truck over the finish first with another big nose dive at the end.
Monster Truck Finals
Bigfoot vs. Raminator--
Easily one of the most bitter rivalries over the past four years and it continues to grow with each time these two names face off. Perfect runs for both in Round 1, but now, perfection just won't be good enough. Hall charged off the line first with the hole shot leaving Long already at a disadvantage. He powered towards the cars and extended the lead as they flew off the ramps and Raminator takes the half-truck length win over Rick Long in Bigfoot. Winner: Raminator.
Hall took two victory hits on the cars to celebrate his victory on the day and perhaps his Monster Nationals title as well.
Truly a test of wits, skill and patience made up this event and only a few prevailed in each with nearly everyone having a struggle at some point in the day mechanically let alone having to worry about it in the dry heat furnace. But despite all the setbacks, it was still another solid effort from every team and everyone associated with the Monster Nationals. Every time I get to one of their events I walk away thrilled and pleased. You will too as soon as you check out a Monster Nationals coming near you especially if you're in the midwest as there are plenty of chances to see the tour. Check out MonsterNationals.com for the latest schedule information.
Thanks to George Eisenhart, the Halls, Noelkes and everyone that tried their hardest to make the day a success. Of course, thanks to you for reading another coverage!